The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2022

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JUL-AUG 2022 Issue
Critics Page

Kazumi Chin and Heesoo Kwon

Art as a Rehearsal of Freedom

We want art that builds and sustains a world of our own making. Art that allows us to live in such a world, if only in one place, at one time, temporarily. If only for a moment. Knowing that we might still carry this moment, even as we depart. Knowing that we are training our bodies in the work of freedom. That such temporary passings can yet linger within us. Can reorient us. Can change the relationship our bodies have to the freedom constantly denied us.

Or, simply: we want art that is a rehearsal of freedom. Rehearsal: not the performance itself, but before it. Not singularity, but process. Because we know the impossibility of such freedom. We are not naive. And so: we want art that is birthed from this impossibility.

We want art that articulates what language cannot, what theory cannot, what our bodies cannot. The impossibility, too, of freedom from capitalist violence, colonial violence, patriarchal violence. We want art birthed from that. Because we know the impossible is simply the connes of the here and now. Is simply the wall of this world that we have not yet undone. Because we know there exists another world beyond.

This is not easy work, we know this, too. To birth a new world from the impossible requires rst that we nd the traces of such a world in the here and now, one that yet resides within the impossible. To birth another world requires attending to the archive of this one, and building our own archives alongside it. As such, we want art dedicated to this nding, this building. As such, we want art that knows the diculty of attending to such things.

We want art dedicated to an archive capable of naming what goes unnamed. An art capable of making presence out of absence. Critique, yes, in naming our impossibilities. But beyond that: we want art that attends to our dreams of freedom. We want an aesthetic built upon such attention. Knowing our aesthetics cannot set us free. And trying anyway. We are done acknowledging such impossibilities.

My Process with Heesoo Kwon

A few weeks ago, Susette Min posed the question to me, “What do we, as Asian American artists, want?” In an attempt to answer this question, I have been spending time at the 41 Ross Street gallery in San Francisco with the artist Heesoo Kwon, who, since 2017, has been deeply committed to her art practice, Leymusoom. Leymusoom, however, is also more than an art practice: it is what Kwon terms an “autobiographical feminist religion.” Leymusoom, as both an art practice and religion, is an “ever-evolving exploration of family histories and feminist liberation” that can be accessed as a digital shrine, as well as through physical manifestations in gallery spaces like 41 Ross Street, where Kwon’s vision of a “digital feminist utopia” meets the physical realm of San Francisco’s Chinatown. Indeed, all of Kwon’s Leymusoom work bridges this space between the physical and the digital, in order to create new spaces for Kwon to share her life both with her female ancestors and her local community at once. In doing so, Kwon nds ways to conceive of new forms of being in relation to community, ancestry, and history, and nds new ways to share her ndings on a deeply immersive and aective level.

To date, over 100 people have converted to the Leymusoom religion. What does conversion mean? While I am not sure that I can claim full conversion at this present moment, I appreciate the gesture of what conversion might entail. Conversion, for me, means holding both the “autobiographical” and the “feminist” of Leymusoom at once. The piece of writing above emerges from this space. From what it means, for me, to conceive of an Asian American art form that is feminist and autobiographical. And, moreover, to conceive of a language that can hold all of those whom I love at once. It is a love letter to Kwon, and all of my friends and loved ones, and all of us committed to this work of art as diasporic subjects residing in this place we call America.


Heesoo Kwon

Heesoo Kwon is an artist.

Kazumi Chin

Kazumi Chin is an author.


The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2022

All Issues